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The weather is already growing cooler in Moscow.

Hunched next to the conservatory sign with its elegant lettering—l’Academie du ballet international de Moscou—Yuuri shivers, pulling his thin jacket tighter around him. It isn’t really cold, but the last time he was outside he was in Hasetsu, Japan, at the tail end of an especially humid summer. It’s nearly autumn here; the sky is a soft grey, and a dry breeze ruffles Minako’s hair.

She holds the door open for him. “After you.”

He steps carefully over the threshold, blinking his eyes to adjust to the softly-lit interior. It is August 31st. Tomorrow he will begin his training, and his life, he thinks, will change.

Lilia Baranovskaya is an imposing figure. There are no chairs in front of her desk, and as he stands before her trying not to slouch, Minako smirking from the sidelines as though she’s seen this many times before, Yuuri feels oddly like a child with grubby palms, caught in the act of something unpleasant. He resists the urge to fidget.

The headmistress is silent, pacing a slow circle around him, appraising him. She purses her lips, frowning here and there, until at last, after several minutes, she speaks.

“You are the new transfer?”

“Oui, madame.”

“Your posture is good but your form is sloppy. Physically you are a disaster. How long were you on hiatus?”

His eyes flicker to the floor. “Six months.”

“And did you dance at all during that time?”

“A little. I know with a lot of hard work I can improve my form and do better than before.”

“It is hard work.” Her gaze is ferocious. “Are you really certain you are prepared for what that entails?”

“I am.”

She is still frowning at him, but her face has softened to something that isn’t quite approval but could be acceptance.

“Very well,” she says. “Your French, at least, is serviceable enough, though some instructors still prefer to conduct parts of their lessons in Russian. It is your responsibility to keep up.”

“I understand,” he says.

“Minako. Show the boy to his room.”

“Right away.” She takes Yuuri’s arm, and they nod their respects to Madame Baranovskaya on their way out.

“You held up under inspection,” Minako murmurs as she guides him in the direction of the dormitories. “I’m proud.”

“She was very intimidating,” he says. “I hope I didn’t say anything too stupid.”

“You were fine. Are you nervous for tomorrow?”

He nods. Ordinarily it isn’t something he’d be so ready to admit to, but this is Minako, after all. “I’m glad you’re teaching one of my first classes. It’ll be nice to see a familiar face.”

“There’ll be few enough of those here.” She stops outside a door halfway down the hall, pulling out a key and handing it to Yuuri. “Let’s see if your new roommate’s around.”

“Do you know who he is?”

“Oh yes. Phichit has what you might call a reputation.”

Yuuri isn’t sure he likes the sound of that. Minako knocks once, and the door flies open almost immediately, the boy behind it bearing a smile and an outstretched hand.

“You must be Yuuri! I’m Phichit Chulanont. I’m a fourth year. You too, right? Oh, is that Madame Okukawa I see behind you?”

“Hello, Phichit. You’ve had an eventful summer, from the looks of it.”

“The Instagram pictures are cool, huh? Touring in Thailand was amazing, I’m so happy I had the opportunity.” He slings his arm around Yuuri’s shoulder. “And speaking of opportunities…”

Before Yuuri can react he’s pulled out his phone, snapping a quick picture of the two of them.

“Gotta get a selfie with my new roomie.”

Yuuri nods, a little dazed, and Minako casts him an amused glance.

“Phichit,” she says, “why don’t we give Yuuri some time to unpack his things? You can tell me more about your summer.”

“Of course.” He waves Yuuri into the room. “Take all the time you need. Give a shout if you want any help.”

The door closes, and Yuuri is left to inspect his surroundings.

It’s a small chamber of relatively spartan design, but he doesn’t mind. It will allow him to focus more on his training. There are two bunks on opposite sides of the room. Phichit’s is lofted with a desk and chair underneath, a few boxes stacked in a heap at its feet. He’s done his best to give the room personality—his walls are covered with posters and photographs. A frame on his desk shows him with two other boys in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, grinning widely and rather mischievously out at the camera.

Yuuri looks down at his own bags, rifling through one of them for the signed playbill from when he went to see the Tokyo Ballet for his eighteenth birthday. He pins it up by his bedside.

Well, he thinks. It’s a start.

Phichit returns sometime in the late afternoon, and they start in on the usual icebreaker questions. Yuuri learns that his roommate trained in Detroit but is from Bangkok originally, the first Thai dancer to be admitted to the academy. His favorite film is The King and the Skater, and the faces on the desktop photograph belong to Leo de la Iglesia and Guang-Hong Ji, their fellow classmates.

“So what about you?” Phichit folds his arms, leaning back against the bedpost in a decidedly un-dancerish way. “What made you decide to transfer here?”

“Advancing my career, I guess.” Yuuri isn’t sure he can explain it in a few short, catchy sentences. “I was on hiatus for a few months after I graduated from my old school, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and this is where it led me. Minako’s my old ballet teacher, she’s the one who recommended the place to me.”

“I’m surprised they let you in after you were on break,” says Phichit. “The Bear is pretty strict.”

“And kind of terrifying,” says Yuuri. “Is everyone here like her?”

“Some, but not all. Yakov can be harsh, but he’s not so bad once you’re used to him. Celestino’s kind of the opposite. He seems nice, but don’t let him fool you into thinking he won’t come down on you like hellfire if you’re not giving your best effort.”

Yuuri lets out a long breath. “Sounds like I have a lot to catch up on.”

“You have no idea.” Phichit brightens suddenly. “Hey, you should come to dinner with me. I’ll introduce you to the other two-thirds of the trinity.”

“The trinity?”

“Officially unofficial group name. You’ll see.”

“Ah.”

Yuuri wonders if he means the two other boys in his photograph, and is proved right when Leo and Guang-Hong join them in the dining hall. They each shake Yuuri’s hand enthusiastically and then launch into a lively discussion on some summer event that Phichit captured on his Instagram. Yuuri mostly listens; their words are flying from mouth to mouth in a bizarre hybrid of French and English, and some of the finer points of the conversation pass him by. He hardly registers what he’s eating—something Russian and unfamiliar but good, he thinks—and afterwards he asks Phichit quietly if any of the practice rooms are open to students at this hour.

“Of course,” he says. “Would you like me to show you where they are?”

Yuuri declines the offer, thanking him, although privately he isn’t half sure he knows how to find anything in this place. But he thinks he would like to wander around a little, alone, get his bearings.

Phichit points him in the direction of the right building, at least, and he watches the sun set over the rooftops of Moscow as he makes the short walk up the path. After stumbling through a few darkened corridors, he thinks he’s found the hall of open practice rooms. He peers through the doorways, trying to find one that is both available and out of the way. Most appear empty, but he is struck suddenly by a slow, melancholy music drifting towards him, and without really thinking about it he gravitates to its source.

The last room in the hall is occupied, the door cracked open just slightly, just enough for Yuuri to peer tentatively through.

The only illumination is the last of the day’s light filtering through a high window on the back wall, casting a shadow across the boy at the center of the marley floor. His back is to Yuuri, but the reflection in the row of mirrors at the front displays a flash of silver hair and ocean-blue eyes, an almost wistful countenance.

He dances languidly, not out of a lack of motivation but with a deliberate intention behind every movement, a confident, steady energy flowing through the tips of his fingers. His gestures are amazingly precise; Yuuri tries to take in the intricacy he watches, the back of his brain telling him he should stop staring while the rest of him is stuck as though paralyzed to the spot.

It’s not like any style of ballet he’s seen before. All of the classical technique is present, but there’s something else too, something that feels achingly contemporary. The rhythmic fluidity in the way he carries himself has Yuuri utterly transfixed.

The boy spins around, and the illusion is shattered.

“I’m sorry!” Yuuri blurts, hands flying to his mouth. “I didn’t mean to—I’m so so sorry.”

He’s out the door before the stranger has time to react. He thinks he hears a hurried wait! called after him, but his heart is pounding too loudly for him to care. He doesn’t dare go in any of the other studios. Instead, he runs all the way back to the dormitories.

Phichit is in the middle of a movie when Yuuri gets in, but as soon as he glances up he pulls off his headphones, a look of concern blooming on his face.

“Yuuri? Is everything alright?”

“I’m fine,” he wheezes. Phichit is evidently doubtful.

“Weren’t you going to practice in one of the studios?”

“I…was.”

“Something happened.”

“Nothing bad.” Yuuri pauses. “I walked in on someone dancing and then ran away. It was embarrassing.”

“Is that all?” Phichit seems faintly amused. “From your expression I thought Christophe had propositioned you in a dark alley.” He puts a hand over his mouth. “Oh my god. You didn’t catch him dancing, did you?”

“I…don’t know.”

“Was there a stripper pole involved?”

Yuuri shakes his head.

“Then no, probably not.”

“I don’t know who he was,” says Yuuri. “I left before he could say anything. He didn’t seem that much older than us.”

“I wonder…” Phichit stops. “Well. This place is small enough that everyone knows each other, in one way or another. You can point him out to me tomorrow, if we see him.”

Yuuri nods and hopes they don’t.

The next morning marks his first official day of class, the start of the new semester. Phichit is subdued but cheerful, while Yuuri stumbles blearily through his usual routine, having spent more time staring at the ceiling than sleeping.

“Rough night?” Phichit’s grin is knowing. “It’s okay. We’ve all been there. Are you ready to face the Bear?”

Yuuri glances down at his schedule. Madame Baranovskaya is teaching their first lesson. He mumbles a halfhearted reply to Phichit, but the truth, of course, is that he is not at all ready, and the knot in his stomach seems to be tightening.

He makes his way to the studio, trailing behind his roommate, mind churning amidst the murmur of friends reuniting after a summer apart. He’s far too absorbed to really pay attention to where he’s going, so much so that he slams into someone heading the opposite direction and half-trips, catching himself on his back foot before he can go sprawling.

“I’m really sorry,” he starts, thinking that since it’s a phrase he seems to be using so often here he should learn how to say it in Russian, but the stranger cuts him off, jabbing him in the chest.

“Watch where you’re going, asshole.”

Yuuri doesn’t think he’s ever seen so much rage condensed into such a slight figure, but it doesn’t make him any less afraid for his life.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, quieter this time, and the kid just glares at him.

“Idiot. You’re just lucky I didn’t break anything or you’d be in big trouble.”

“Such a sharp tongue, Yura.” Someone steps behind the kid, clapping a hand on his shoulder. Yuuri grips Phichit’s arm, hard. The angry stranger spits, shrugging out of his companion’s grasp.

“God, Victor. Why can’t you just stick to jerking it to your own ego and leave me alone?”

Victor laughs lightly, but his eyes are narrowed. “If you keep running that mouth of yours you’ll be late to class.”

“Whatever.” But the kid moves on, tossing them one last dirty look over his shoulder.

“Sorry about that,” says Victor, running a hand through his bangs. “He can be quite a handful at times.” He offers them a cordial smile. “You’re Phichit Chulanont, right? I don’t believe your friend and I have been introduced.”

Phichit nudges Yuuri with his foot, but his ability to form comprehensible sentences seems to have vanished. Victor waits patiently.

“This is my roommate, Yuuri Katsuki,” says Phichit. “He’s a new transfer.”

“A pleasure.” Victor sticks out his hand. Yuuri stares at it for a few seconds, and Phichit kicks him. He shakes it, managing to unstick his throat long enough to mumble something that doesn’t resemble a real word in any of the languages he’s familiar with.

“We should be going,” says Phichit, wrapping an arm around Yuuri’s shoulder and leading him gently away. Victor waves them on.

“Um, Yuuri,” he says once they’re a safe distance away, prying his roommate’s fingers from his arm and wincing a little. “What was all that about?”

“That’s the person I saw dancing.”

“Who, the blond shrimp?”

“No, the other one.”

“Wait.” Phichit stops walking, whirling around to face him. “You mean Victor?”

Yuuri shifts uneasily. “Yes?”

“Oh.” He starts forward again. “Then everything makes perfect sense now.”

“Wait.” Yuuri jogs after him. “What does that mean?”

“It means you’ve had your first run-in with the great Victor Nikiforov.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Victor is what many would call a legend here,” Phichit explains. “Lifelong dance prodigy, national and international sensation. I’m actually surprised you haven’t heard of him.”

“Now that you mention it, the name does sound familiar.” Yuuri frowns. “So…what, he takes lessons at the conservatory?”

“He’s a fifth year. But he’s already been offered roles in the corps de ballet with the main company. It’s rare but it happens, for senior dancers to be granted a position. It’s even rarer for it to happen more than once.”

“And that kid he was with?”

“Yuri Plisetsky. I’ve heard of him too. They call him the Russian Fairy. He came up from the Lower School last fall. Rumor has it he’s trying to do five years of coursework in only three.”

“That’s insane.”

“I know, right?” Phichit shakes his head. “All the rookies these days are crazy, pushing themselves to extremes just to stay ahead.”

Yuuri nods slowly, trying to process everything and trying not to think too hard about it. He wants to question Phichit further, but they’ve finally arrived at their destination, and he becomes preoccupied with staying on his feet, maintaining his poise, remembering to breathe. The day will be difficult, but terribly necessary. The other students are lined up at the barre, in various stages of warming up, and Yuuri falls into place at the end of the row.

They snap to attention the moment Madame Baranovskaya walks into the room.

She holds her chin high, stalking down the line with all the command of an empress, the air thick with a hushed sort of reverence. Yuuri worries that she can hear his heart racing in the silence.

“Another year.”

She takes a step back, appraising them like soldiers with her fiery gaze.

“This is what you have ahead of you. One more year of constant, disciplined devotion to one of the world’s most respected artistic traditions. If you have managed to make it this far you will know that this is no easy feat. Nor should you fall under the impression that now that you are nearing the end you have nothing left to learn. These last years at the Academy will be the most grueling yet, and if anyone present is not prepared for such intensive labor, I invite them to leave immediately.”

The speech could be comical, a few lines of film-style rhetoric, but coming from the one-time prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet no one dares to take it anything but seriously. She glares at them, far from the tallest person in the room but somehow towering above them all.

“We are not like the other Russian schools. You want the Vaganova Method, go to Vaganova. We teach more than that here. The Moscow International Ballet is one of the world’s most cutting-edge companies in our field. With us you will go beyond what you thought you knew about dance.”

She pauses a moment to let her words sink in, then claps her hands. “Enough with the formalities. In your previous studies each of you will have taken a classical approach to pas de deux. This semester you will learn how to take this technique in new, innovative directions. This is one of the most physically and intellectually demanding classes that you will have this year. For this reason, one of our most successful senior students will serve as my teaching assistant.”

Someone steps into the room, straight-backed and graceful, hovering just behind her, and Yuuri feels his heart sink.

“Many of you know Victor Nikiforov,” says Madame Baranovskaya, “whether personally or by reputation. He is here as a resource to aide you in your exploration of the subject material. I trust you are all mature enough to take full advantage of his expertise.”

There’s some embarrassed shuffling amidst the students, a few rosy cheeks and abashed glances at the floor, quelled instantly by their instructor’s deepening frown. Yuuri has no doubt a whole host of people would like nothing more than to take advantage of Victor’s expertise, in every sense of the phrase.

They’re supposed to partner up. These couplings, their instructor informs them, will last the entire semester, so they aught to choose carefully. But everyone here already knows each other, have all been working together for years now, and Yuuri is at the end of the line. There’s no one left to pair with him.

“An uneven number.” Madame Baranovskaya purses her lips. “Where is Natalya Marinova?”

“Her parents pulled her out of the Academy,” someone says. “She packed up her things and left this morning.”

Against my permission, Yuuri thinks he hears the headmistress murmur. She considers him a moment, weighing her options, and then seems to come to a decision.

“Very well,” she says. “Yuuri, you will be Victor’s partner this semester.”

There’s an audible gasp from some of the other students, out of shock or envy or some combination of the two, Yuuri can’t quite tell. His face is burning as he steps lightly across the room to join his new colleague. The silence in the air is strange and uncomfortable, and he can’t bring himself to meet anyone’s eyes. Victor is still staring straight ahead, patiently awaiting further direction.

“You will have the entire class period to compose a five-minute sample of what pas de deux means to you, to be presented when next we meet. I will use this to judge your current understandings of the subject and tweak my curriculum as necessary.”

This more than anything else is what cements Lilia Baranovskaya’s authority in Yuuri’s mind. No other instructor he knows of would dare suggest that their tradition is anything less than perfection. It takes guts to meddle with the classics.

They’ve been released to work, and he realizes he should probably say something, instead of standing silently like a fool.

“Yuuri Katsuki,” says Victor, and there’s that smile again, so easy and so uncommon here. “We meet again.”

Yuuri can’t think of a reply, so he just nods, and Victor’s lips curve into something playful.

“How fortunate I’ll get to watch you dance this time, too.”

Yuuri feels his ears burning.

“That was an accident,” he says, finding his voice. Victor raises a solitary eyebrow.

Really?” His tone drips an amused skepticism.

“Maybe I was just scouting my competition,” Yuuri says hotly, then bites his tongue.

Victor looks like he’s about to respond, but Madame Baranovskaya throws a sharp glance their way, and he seems to change his mind. “Shall we get started?”

Yuuri has been doing pas de deux since he was sixteen, but he knows he still has a long way to go before he comes anywhere close to mastery. Most people, he knows, are finished with their training by now—almost all the premier schools in the world offer somewhere between six and eight years of instruction, sometimes more, but only for the very young, teaching them to dance as soon as they can walk. By the time a person reaches his age they are expected to have taken a position with an actual company. But the Academy provides a syllabus unique to the other prestigious institutions, and when Yuuri finally completes his education he will receive both the professional Diploma for Dancers and an undergraduate degree in the performing arts. These, he thinks, are appropriate trade-offs.

He wonders, as they stretch and begin some preliminary movements, how it must be for Victor. The world must be waiting for him to hurry up and graduate, find some reputable coalition of artists to join and work his way to the top like he’s supposed to. He’s already danced with the Moscow International Ballet; he’s supposed to be a prodigy. He’ll have his pick of jobs when the year is out.

The two of them finish going through their warm up and pull apart. Yuuri doesn’t know how this bit is supposed to go. Victor is above him in course experience, and the teaching assistant besides. Does this mean he’ll expect to have control over the choreography, or will he want contributions? Yuuri isn’t even sure when he last made a composition, video audition for the Academy notwithstanding.

“I can hear you thinking,” Victor says, and he starts.

“Sorry.” There’s that word again. I should really expand my vocabulary, he thinks. Victor seems to be waiting for something.

“I was wondering what we should do,” says Yuuri. “For our choreography.”

“Do you have any ideas?”

He shakes his head. His mind was—is—still too stuck on the reality of his situation to be concerned with artistry.

“We’ll have to pick roles,” he says.

Victor cocks his head. “Oh?”

“Who’s lifting who.”

“Ah.” Victor hums, considering it a moment. “Frankly, I’m fine with switching off. Do you usually?”

“What?”

“Switch,” he breathes, and something in his voice makes Yuuri’s cheeks flush.

“I haven’t really had the opportunity,” he mumbles.

“That’s okay,” Victor tells him. He pauses. “In that case, what if I do the lifts for this composition? I’m sure later we can work out an arrangement for the rest of the semester.”

“An arrangement.” Yuuri swallows. “Alright.”

Victor grins at him, and launches into a description of the concept he’s just now forming for their choreography. The words “I’m still thinking it through” come up at least once, but when he demonstrates his ideas it’s only because Yuuri’s had a lot of training that he recognizes the lack of practice. Is he really that good?

He’s strong, too. Strong enough to lift Yuuri a significant amount, if only for brief moments. He’s not used to dancing this position, but he tries to give it his best effort. He catches Lilia Baranovskaya’s eyes on the pair of them several times throughout the class period.

Once they’ve been released, she approaches him, holding him back as he’s about to make his way to the door. Phichit shoots him a questioning look, and Yuuri motions for him to go ahead without him.

“I want you to do pointe work.”

Yuuri isn’t sure if he’s heard her correctly at first—maybe she said you’re missing the point of this work, that seems vastly more likely—but her expression is as serious as ever and he swallows nervously.

“Pointe work?”

“Yes,” she says, impatient. “I believe the training will be beneficial to your form, and your application informs me that you have previously taken some classes.”

“When I was fourteen,” says Yuuri, “to strengthen my feet.”

“So you will already know some of the technique.” Madame Baranovskaya scribbles something on her clipboard, then tears the page off and hands it to him. “Here is your schedule for the extra lessons. I am assigning Minako to be your instructor. You’ll have to do the majority of your practice outside of class, but I can excuse you from the partnering breakout session on Wednesdays.”

Yuuri nods mutely, taking the paper and folding it into a side pocket of his bag.

“We have more boys enrolled at the Academy than anyone else this year,” says Madame Baranovskaya softly, and her tone is far away but her eyes are still on Yuuri. “This is the first time that has happened. I think we may finally show the world that it must move beyond convention if this art form is to progress.”

Yuuri isn’t sure how to respond to that, but before he can try, Madame Baranovskaya shakes her head as if to clear the thought away.

“I am sure you have other lessons to attend to,” she says, and Yuuri takes this as a dismissal.

Phichit is waiting for him outside the studio doors.

“So? What did she want?”

Yuuri hands him the schedule.

“Extra pointe classes.” He whistles. “That’s intense. Did she tell you why?”

“She said it would help my form. But I think—I think she wants me to dance the part of the ballerina for pairs.”

“It’s you or Victor,” says Phichit, “and he’s taller.”

“I almost forgot.” Yuuri covers his face with his hands. “I’m sure our entire class hates me now.”

“I wouldn’t say they hate you. Some of them couldn’t care less.”

“And some of them are contemplating slipping something in my food at dinner.”

“True.” Phichit offers him a sympathetic clap on the back. “They’ll get over it eventually. And in the meantime, you’ve managed to secure yourself a partnership with the best dancer at the Academy.”

“I guess,” Yuuri says, because if he’s being honest that’s what really scares him, more than any of the reactions of his peers or the (hopefully slim) possibility of revenge poisoning.

The rest of the day is eventful, he knows—probably one of the most eventful days of his life so far, because he’s miles away from anything familiar and he can already tell that he’ll have to work harder than he ever has just to keep up—but somehow it’s all a blur. His mind keeps circling back to pointe lessons, to pas de deux, to Victor Nikiforov.

When his parents call to ask how he’s getting on, he isn’t sure what to say.

“Moscow is very big,” he tells them, and they talk for a while about the weather.

His first session with Minako is the next day, in the early evening, when all his other classes are finished. Phichit, without being asked, promises to wait for him before going to dinner, and Yuuri is grateful.

Minako is not at the studio when he arrives, but someone else is. The boy’s scowl grows deeper at his approach.

“Oh. It’s you.”

“Um, Yuri? What are you doing here?”

The second-year doesn’t seem surprised that Yuuri knows his name, nor does his expression lighten. If anything, his glare becomes more intense.

“Pointe lessons,” he spits. “What are you doing here?”

“I…” Yuuri runs a hand through his hair, caught off guard. “The same, actually.”

He looks down at the floor, away from what he imagines is another of the grimaces in Yuri’s vast arsenal. He expects an outburst of potentially volcanic proportions, but there’s only a snort of frustration, a muttered typical. Since he seems like he might have a slightly better understanding of the situation, Yuuri chances a question.

“Do you know why we’re taking lessons together?”

He receives the anticipated frown in response, but this time Yuri appears more frustrated than angry.

“No,” he admits, turning away. “I mean, I know why I’m taking lessons, but I thought…

Yuuri nods. “I thought it’d be alone.”

“Yeah.” He turns back around to glower at the older student again. “So you’d better not mess this up for me.”

And before Yuuri can answer, Minako has arrived.

“Both here early, I see.” She drops her bag to the floor, pulling out her phone and plugging it in to the stereo system. “Ready to begin?”

Yuri raises his chin, a glint of what could be pride in his eyes, pointe shoes already laced. With a start Yuuri realizes he doesn’t own a pair anymore.

“Um…”

“Here.” Minako tosses the shoes at him. “They’re secondhand, but it was hard to find the right size. You’ll be needing new ones in a month or so once these get worn through. I’ll ask Lilia if we can use some of the company’s replacement budget for both of you.”

She puts some music on and guides them through a warm-up—not a process Yuuri has needed help with in a long while, but he doesn’t complain. This training will require a return to the basics, for a time, but he doesn’t believe the headmistress would have assigned him to it without reason.

Pointe is arduous work. He’s forgotten, in the several years since his last lesson, just how difficult it can be, the way it leaves his feet with a different sort of ache than usual. But he likes it, this sensation of lightness, the way it makes him feel sylph-like and ethereal. He is not as flexible as Yuri, not as petite of stature, but he is determined to make his best effort, to not be embarrassed here. When they break two hours later, flushed and panting, a prickle of triumph surges up inside him.

“You’re going to have to do better than that if you want to keep up,” Yuri tells him, but for the moment Yuuri is simply glad that he managed to get through it all.

He’s exhausted on the walk back to his dorm. Too exhausted, because he isn’t really paying attention to anything but stumbling his way forward and he nearly careens into a fellow pedestrian for the second time in two days. He looks up, prepared to apologize, into Victor Nikiforov’s eyes. The words die in his throat.

“And where are you off to?”

There’s something teasing playing at the corner of his lips.

“To sleep,” Yuuri says, and even that small phrase is a labor. “I’m coming from pointe lessons.”

“That’s quite the endeavor,” says Victor. “Have you had dinner? You must be starved.”

“I was going to eat with Phichit, but…

He yawns. Victor prods his shoulder gently.

“Eat first. Then sleep. You’ll feel better after.”

Yuuri is too tired to argue. He wonders if he should invite Victor to accompany him, if that would be the polite thing to do, but he wonders also if it would be too strange. This conversation has already sapped most of what mental strength he has remaining; he doubts he can limp his way through an entire meal’s worth of awkward small talk.

“I will,” he says, and doesn’t add anything else. They stand there for a few uncomfortable seconds, neither moving to leave.

“Um,” he says, “bye.”

“I’ll see you in pas de deux tomorrow, Yuuri.”

And maybe it’s just that Moscow is colder than he’s used to at this time of year, but when he hears the way Victor trills his name Yuuri shivers. He continues down the path before he can do anything else he’ll regret in the morning.

It is going to be a difficult year, he thinks. He might even enjoy it.